Jenna Elfman plays June on Fear the Walking Dead. In this Q&A with amc.com, she talks about June's new feral state, what she did to inhabit June's anguish, and John Dorie's lasting influence.
Q: What did you think when you first read the script for this episode and saw it was a showcase for June?
A: I felt so immensely grateful. I loved the episode and promptly hopped on the group text with Scott [Gimple], Ian [Goldberg], Andrew [Chambliss], and Mikey [Michael E. Satrazemis] and just said thank you and that I was so excited to dive into what June has been through in seven years. She's been living on her own for years now in this very remote hut and she’s so profoundly traumatized and heartbroken by what she witnessed at PADRE. By what PADRE put her through, abusing her goodness to serve their end. The betrayal when someone abuses the very essence of what's good about you. I was very excited to explore that deep betrayal and how it connected to her earlier trauma. How she was trying to find her strength or what she could still do to be helpful for her to survive. I really was excited to dig in and explore that and to transform myself by asking the question: what does someone do who has to survive by themselves but still wants to feel meaningful in the world? What does that look like? And, as a woman, what does that look like? So, I was just very grateful and excited to explore and dig in.
Q: Can you talk about how much June has changed in the years since we last saw her in Season 7 before this time jump? You talk about having to transform yourself. Was that a physical transformation as well as a mental transformation?
A: 100 percent. She saw the way Strand handled the power and was disgusted with her own violations of her integrity. They took off in the rafts at the end of Season 7 and she entered PADRE. They placed her where she's best, which is in medicine, and then betrayed everything that's good about her and forced her at gunpoint to do horrible, horrible experiments. She had to get away. "Feral" is a word that I used to place myself in her body. That sort of toughness physically that one has to attain to survive by themselves for years. You become tough. You become hard. You become suspicious, untrusting, which are all these qualities that are the opposite of where June's heart truly is. I explored the physical transformation of knowing she has to be strong physically to survive for herself in this environment. She has to be super smart, super savvy. She's spent a lot of time alone, so she's very disconnected and hardened. The only thing that's keeping her from completely losing it is trying to disable their ability to ever do that to someone else again by taking their trigger fingers — that's all she has left. That's all she can find. It's her way of being able to fight back while keeping herself safe.
Q: What was it like having no dialogue and all action for the first few minutes of this episode?
A: I loved it. It's sort of a microscope into what her focus is, what she sees, and what she's focused on and how myopic her world has become. I think it takes us straight into her viewpoint. And Heather Cappiello, who directed the episode, was so generous, helpful, and inclusive of my participation in figuring this out together. Because to me, it's a big deal to establish a character that's gone through so much, a time jump, and establish their baseline moving forward for the season and where they're at. That takes a lot of detailed attention, from how I move, how I look, how I respond in the most detailed, detailed way.
I knew some of the locations that June lived in so I went there by myself on my off-time and on weekends. The train was an actual location, and I would sit there because June's trauma happened on these trains. I remember on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon I went to the train museum, which was where we shot it all, and sat in the train. It was bloody hot, very humid, and I just sat in there and could, in my own time, without the crew around, without the ticking clock of a production day, be in the space. I had my script with me, and I walked through those scenes just being in the car in my mind and put the history there in my imagination for myself because you have to kind of get that in your body a little bit. Unless you've actually experienced some kind of war-torn country where you're actually in an intensely raw survival environment, you don't have a lot to compare it to in your own experience, so I had to get it in my body.
I like what you were saying about the details because I really enjoyed seeing what June sees when she's looking through the binoculars and she shoots the person and then takes out those instruments. I loved seeing that all step-by-step.
Yeah, she's very strategic with it, which I love. She's very competent with her procedure. She's had plenty of time to figure it out because she's been on her own for years living in this hut by a swamp! I just love that instead of her becoming completely apathetic or having a complete psychotic break, she’s actually been very clever, industrious, and competent with what she's going to do for these kids in her zone of control. Even though she's so broken in what she's doing, it's so well-executed and is still rooted in goodness, which I love. She's on the right side of the line, you know?
Q: You haven't had any real scenes with Dwight and Sherry since Season 6. How was it reuniting with them on screen, especially because June and John were so integral to Dwight's story once he joined the show?
A: Yeah, I loved getting to create in their world. It's funny, sometimes lines blur between your own experience and the character's experience because you live so intimately in their minds. I did feel a sense of loneliness after losing John Sr. and everything in the Tower coming right on the heels of losing John Jr. It was a very lonely existence and there was loneliness through all of Season 7. So to be able to connect with Dwight and Sherry, and Austin [Amelio, who plays Dwight] and Christine [Evangelista, who plays Sherry]... We all stayed at the same hotel. You're up at 4am, you come home at 7pm, so you work these long, intimate hours going through very heavy emotional scenes and then it's really hard at the end of the day to just get in your bed and go to sleep. You have to do something. So we would often just sit outside in front of the hotel and chat, laugh, and just talk the day off of our bodies and have a bite to eat. We had a lot of bonding time and went through many experiences together, so it was a very nice overlay of friendship on screen and off screen. I found this whole final season very comforting in that way. In many regards, June's trying to get away once she realizes that someone knows where she lives and then the second you try to leave, you pull in people because you're meant to be with people and so that was an art imitating life/life imitating art experience this season that I really needed and appreciated.
Q: I recently rewatched the episode with June and John's wedding, which was so beautiful, and of course Dwight was the one who gave them their rings. June must still carry John's spirit with her, don't you think?
A: Yeah, absolutely! There's this speech in Season 5 [Episode 7, "Still Standing"] that I give to Althea over the back of a flatbed truck when she and Isabelle were separated. There's a point where John and June were separated and, in the speech, I talk about the one thing I always carried with me. If I never saw him again, the one thing I knew is that I could still feel that way in this world, that it is possible. And I think June carries that and sublimates that into her hope. So, it's what can I do for the love of these children? I can still feel alive. I can still feel empathy. I can still feel love. Even if it's shattered and raw-edged and bleeding, I'm still doing something to honor my own goodness, and I think that that's the lasting mark that John has had on her is hope. No matter how grim it gets, you can find it, you do have it in you. You can pull it out in some form and keep yourself alive and sane and connected to that good part of you.
Q: You had to battle several walkers in the train car. After all these years of fighting zombies, do you know what to do or is it a new challenge every time?
A: It's both. It's like I know what to do, but then I don't want to rest on my laurels because I know what to do. And it's always a challenge because I always want to go, "Can I come at it from a different angle?" but in that train car we were very limited with where they could put the camera because we were filming in the actual train car. We couldn't just remove a wall and put the camera there! So we had to work within the confines of a very small space and a lot of bodies. For the fight scenes the camera needed to see what it needed to see to create the geography of the scene, of the story of the gun falling out of my hand, the walker's coming over me, catching that June might be surrendering in this moment. There's a lot of nuance to capture. So sometimes you just have to rely on a good, classic, straight-in-the-brain shot [laughs] without any bells and whistles because there's more important aspects of that moment to tell the story. You know, Norman Reedus always comes up with such clever, rad kill angles and I'm like, "I would love to incorporate that, but it just never quite works out with what we're doing!" Anyway, I don't think June's some superhero. These fight sequences, it's always more about the emotional despair of surviving the moment.
Q: Is there anything else you wanted to say about this episode or June or this final season?
A: I think I just really enjoyed the opportunities that the writers have given me to transform and evolve June as she has these big experiences in her life along the way, and this one felt like the ne plus ultra of transformation and being able to dig deep. I really enjoyed it. I hope the fans will enjoy it and just a big thank you to them for sticking with us and going along this ride with us. You know, it's very enjoyable to create artistically but, for me, I don't just do it for my own satisfaction. I do it because I want to affect other human beings with the story of humanity and to connect them to their own humanity. They keep showing up and they keep letting us know that we connected them with their own humanity, and for me, that's why I do this.
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